As of last night, one month had passed since the troubling audio emerged containing not only a discussion of whether Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill broke the arm of his three-year-old son but also: (1) an argument with the boy’s mother regarding whether he is “terrified” of Hill; and (2) a chilling retort from Hill, in which he said, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.”
The Chiefs have taken no further action and, beyond a flurry of comments that sent the same message (they are “deeply disturbed” by the audio) in the aftermath of the emergence of the audio and the team’s quick decision to keep him away from offseason workouts.
The league had said nothing at all about Hill, and the league probably still would have remained publicly silent but for the fact that someone asked Commissioner Roger Goodell about Hill during Goodell’s traditional press conference at the end of each ownership meeting. Goodell’s somewhat confusing comments (he suggested at one point the league needs “permission” to talk to Hill, which it clearly does not) send a clear message: The league will do nothing until the investigation that was closed the day before the audio emerged and that was reopened immediately thereafter has been resolved, one way or the other.
But no one knows when the reopened investigation will conclude. The Johnson County, Kansas prosecutor has publicly said and done nothing on the case since an investigation that ended due to lack of sufficient evidence as to who committed a crime against Hill’s son started up again.
The vague status of the situation creates a timeline problem for the Chiefs and the league. If the investigation quietly lingers into training camp, will Hill be allowed to show up? Apparently, that will be the case, even if he has yet to be arrested or charged.
At some point, the NFL will have to place Hill on the Commissioner Exempt list, which means that the Chiefs will be required to pay his $1.965 million salary even if he’s not playing. (That may seem unfair to the team, but it’s a far better financial outcome than if they’d signed him to a long-term mega-deal before these events transpired.)
The league’s posture regarding Hill (“we won’t even talk to him while the investigation is pending”) gives prosecutors in Kansas significant power over Hill. If they drag their feet indefinitely, the league apparently will keep him away from the sport, indefinitely.
This awkward stance highlights one of the problems with the application of the Personal Conduct Policy. Because the league typically refrains from potentially interfering with ongoing police investigations, there will be situations in which the potential allegations — even if not actually made against the player — are sufficiently severe to cause the league to ban the player from playing while the investigation proceeds, regardless of how long the investigation may take.
In theory, the league could proceed with investigations of potential Personal Conduct Policy violations unrelated to child abuse. For example, Hill’s comments to Crystal Espinal could amount to the type of “threatened violence” that justifies punishment. But it’s possible that those comments currently are part of a broadened police investigation regarding whether and to what extent Hill will be charged.
As the league waits for the investigation(s) to conclude, it also needs to be prepared to move quickly in the event that law enforcement abruptly ends its work with no charges against Hill. At that point, the league will need to conduct its own investigation and impose punishment, with the clock constantly ticking loudly toward the launch of training camp and, thereafter, Week One of the NFL’s much-ballyhooed 100th season.